STDs and UTIs: Learning Sex Positivity
By Rebecca Potters
Guest Writer Rebecca Potters: Rebecca is a sex-positive writer, editor, and DIY-er currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Born and bred in New Jersey, she had a stint in Montreal where she received her Bachelor's Degree in English from McGill University, with a heavy concentration in Pop Culture and Media. To stay sane after her 9-5, she spends her time writing children's books, personal essays, and trying to make body lotion in her kitchen.
Being sexually active and being sex positive are two wildly different ventures, but in theory should go hand in hand. While they’re not mutually exclusive, it’s common that sexual activity begins far before sexual positivity, and that leads to a vicious tradition of sex being an act of heavy consequence.
While I aimed to maintain a healthy attitude toward sex from the beginning of my physically mature life, there were a few roadblocks I wasn’t expecting, which in-turn inhibited me from accepting that there are strengths and pitfalls to using your body how you want to. These roadblocks are STDs and UTIs.
On one end of the spectrum are STDs, which are made out to be the driving force behind fear-based abstinence. Health teachers preach that “the only way to 100% protect yourself against STDs is abstinence”, so if you want to “keep your body safe, refrain from sex.” They made STDs and STIs out to be the be-all-end-all of sexual health, implying that once you’re exposed to an infection or virus, that you would in-turn become untouchable. They created a stigma around things that are not actually that big of a deal.
First of all, the idea that abstinence is the only protection against STDs minimizes the population of those who were given a virus during childbirth, or who contracted an infection while refraining from penetrative sex but engaging in oral sex and the other fun accoutrements that go into outercourse. No one communicates that there are many ways to be exposed, and no one lets you know that it’s actually going to be okay.
This is not meant to minimize the experiences of those who have had negative experiences with sexual health that have severely impacted their lives, nor does it suggest that these are health issues that can be brushed under the rug or ignored. But had it not been for poorly-structured sex education classes in high school, I wouldn’t have been so upset with myself when I found out I had chlamydia my second year of college.
I’m not sure where it came from, I’m not sure if my former partner lied to me about having sex with other girls, I’m not sure how long I had it for. But I do know that when I found out, I spent the whole day in tears, feeling sick to my stomach, and shitting my brains out from the treatment my doctor prescribed me. It cleared up almost immediately, as did my health concerns, but what didn’t go away was the burden of communicating this to a partner that I knew was wildly uninformed, and who I knew was going to judge me.
I was blamed for infecting him. I was made to feel dirty. And when I tried to explain that maybe he was the one who had it initially and gave it to me, I was met with fervent denial. That denial lasted up until I mentioned that you can pass along chlamydia via oral sex. And then he was silent. It doesn’t matter who gave it to who, but I should not have had to defend myself through tear-filled eyes because he chose not to inform himself.
While coming to terms with the repercussions of my sexual activity and trying to tell myself that everything was going to be fine, I also was constantly dealing with a succession of monthly urinary tract infections following sex. I did everything I was supposed to: I was drinking water, compulsively showering, and taking cranberry pills, not understanding what I was doing wrong or why my body continued to seemingly try and reject my sexually active lifestyle. I would go to urgent care clinics for antibiotics, and every single time, I was met with the judgemental implication that I was in some way unclean; that I was too carefree with my body, and that I didn’t take my sexual health seriously if I was getting UTIs so often. No one had told me that being prone to UTIs was a possibility. I was judged for it, and in turn hated my faulty body more and more with every doctor’s visit.
When I finally went to a urologist, she met me with the same judgement, but also provided me with a solution: a low-dose preliminary antibiotic to take every time I have sex, in order to curtail the UTIs before they started. I haven’t had a UTI since.
Why didn’t I know this was possible? Why was I made to feel so dirty? I couldn’t enjoy sex anymore. I couldn’t feel normal unless I changed my underwear three times a day or I’d run the risk of being “unhygienic.” Constantly running to the bathroom between classes to change my panties because I was so petrified at the idea of another infection, another doctor’s visit, and another opportunity to be scrutinized.
When I had my yearly pap at my OB-GYN that December, I told her what was going on, and without pause or reaction, she calmly said, “Some people are just prone to UTIs. No biggie.”
No biggie. That was all I needed to hear. I had my treatment, and I had the comfort from my doctor.
I became sexually active when I was 17, and didn’t come to peace with my body and the things that may or may not happen because of sex until four years later. Four years of doubtful and worrisome sex was not healthy, nor was it necessary.
While furious that sex positivity is not something often advocated for in high school, I’ve found that information comes best in the form of alternative resources. Raunchily informative podcasts like Guys We Fucked, How Cum, and Girls Gotta Eat populate my weekly roundup of tongue-in-cheek content, keeping me informed, forward thinking, and actively working to educate my peers.
These resources were key players in realizing that the side effects of leading a sexually active lifestyle were not actually a big deal, and that the biggest means of staying healthy are staying informed, keeping an open dialogue with non-judgemental doctors, sharing information, and not allowing blame or stigma to prevent you from staying honest and letting yourself get down and dirty.